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Fact Check-Australian Football League player’s heart issues ‘completely unrelated’ to COVID-19 vaccine

There is no evidence that Australian Football League (AFL) star Ollie Wines’ heart issue was caused by a COVID-19 vaccine. Both the player and his cardiologist said the atrial fibrillation he suffered was “completely unrelated” to the jab. Speculation about vaccine side effects following his health scare has been branded “completely incorrect” by the Australian Department of Health.

Wines’ condition was discussed on the Nine Network’s Sunday Footy Show (SFS) on Apr. 10, during which one guest claimed that “heart issues … has gone through the roof since the boosters and COVID issues no doubt”.

The conversation was posted on Facebook (here), where it has amassed more than 1,200 shares and over 31,000 views.

Its caption reads: “Mainstream TV presenters point the finger at the jabb [sic] for players health issues on LIVE TV 10th April 2022, Channel 9 Melbourne, Sunday Footy Show.”

Other versions of the video can be found on Facebook (here and here) and Twitter (here, here and here), where it has gained thousands more shares and hundreds of thousands more views.

Wines was removed from the pitch and taken to hospital on Apr. 7 after experiencing nausea and dizziness during an Aussie rules game. His club, Port Adelaide FC, confirmed he was undergoing tests to establish a cause of the heart irregularity.

Three days later, panelists on the SFS speculated on his condition and made unfounded claims about the side effects of COVID-19 booster vaccines.

Guest Nathan Brown, a former AFL player, said that “a lot of athletes have got these issues”, in reference to boosters, before one of the hosts, Tony Jones, claimed that “there’s a bit of” Bell’s palsy “going around as well”.

Another guest, former AFL player Matthew Lloyd, then said: “Heart issues and Bell’s palsy has gone through the roof since the boosters and COVID issues, no doubt … There has to be something more to it.”

When the speculation was put to Wines, he told the media (here) his issue was “nothing to do with” COVID vaccines.

“It’s completely unrelated,” he said. “It’s more a heart rhythm issue that is pretty common in elderly people and elite athletes. Once it was explained to me, it was very reassuring and there’s not too many long-term effects.”

His cardiologist also reportedly told Port Adelaide FC that there is no link between Wines’ heart issue and the vaccine, or any COVID issues (here).

A spokesperson for the AFL club later told Reuters via email that Wines had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. They also confirmed that the player “has not had previous heart issues”. Port Adelaide posted an update on his condition on Apr. 11 (here) in which they confirmed Wines had been discharged “after this heartbeat irregularity resolved itself”.

Nine Network addressed the claims made on the SFS in a separate show called Classified Footy. The footage, seen by Reuters, aired on Apr. 12 and featured SFS guest Lloyd, who accepted the conversation was “a bit irresponsible” and apologised for making such claims while discussing Wines’ case.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Health (DoH) told Reuters: “The claims made in the video about the rates of heart issues and Bell’s palsy being ‘through the roof’ due to COVID-19 vaccination are completely incorrect”.

The spokesperson said myocarditis “occurs very rarely” after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and that reports of the issues “are even less common after a booster dose (less than one in every 100,000 people) than after a first or second dose (between one and two in every 100,000 people).

“Myocarditis is more common in people who contract COVID-19 and damage to the heart can be severe after infection,” the spokesperson added.

Acute facial paralysis such as Bell’s palsy “is a known but very rare side effect” of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the spokesperson said. Bell’s palsy is “reported in fewer than one in 1000 patients in clinical trials” and is temporary in most cases, with most people recovering “full motion and function of their face within three months.”

Professor Jeffrey Morris, director of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania (here), told Reuters that he has “not seen any scientific study or analysis to back up the claims that vaccination has caused a flurry of heart issues in elite athletes.”

He suggested the claims likely come from a combination of three factors: a genuine risk of myocarditis in younger men who receive mRNA vaccines, “extra attention” being given to issues that received little coverage before COVID-19, and people developing heart issues due to a COVID-19 infection.

Prof Morris said: “Numerous studies have demonstrated that there is a higher risk of myocarditis after infection than after vaccination, even in younger age groups. Studies have also shown that there is a risk of numerous other cardiovascular events after a COVID infection which are not seen post-vaccination, despite a much larger sample size for the latter.”

He also pointed readers to a thread he had written on the subject (here) that discusses a study (here) which shows that “while the mRNA vaccines clearly present some risk of myocarditis/pericarditis in young men within three weeks of the jab, COVID-19 carries a much higher risk”.

VERDICT

Misleading. Ollie Wines’ heart condition had nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines and there is no evidence of an increase in such issues, or Bell’s palsy, due to the booster programme.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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